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The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.
– Hannah Arendt

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There is no arguing that, at its inception, the Google search algorithm was revolutionary. The introduction of the algorithm turned the search industry on its head and rapidly made Google the number one search provider in the world. The rapid growth and dominance of Google will long be studied as a prime example of how innovation can create revolutionary change.

With this ascension to the top of the search industry came rapid expansion into other online ventures where Google has consistently tried to be the lead innovator, if not the leader, in everything they took on. Google made some bad bets: Google Catalog, Web Accelerator, Google Video Player, Google Answers, Google Wave, Jaiku, etc. But they also expanded successfully with G-mail, Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Calendar, etc.  The verdict is still out, by the way, on Google Plus.

Inevitably, with this growth and expansion, Google went public (in 2004). Since going public, Google has been arguably one of the best stocks, outperforming all but nine other stocks over the same period. But many in the business of marketing search would look back and tell you that the day Google went public was the day Google began to change. From that day forward, what had been an innovation company that focused on connecting information with needs in the most direct way possible became a media company focused on finding more ways to get relevant advertisements in front of users with the maximum frequency. Everything Google has done from that point on has been in some way related to getting more ads in front of more people.

 

No contact information? Not even an email address? That is so Google.
– Search colleague

 

I was having a conversation about a challenge a search colleague of mine was having with an AdWords program she is running for a large FORTUNE 1000 client. For some reason, a whole set of keyword groups were not being accepted by Google—and therefore her client’s ads were not running—despite the fact that many of the keywords were specific product names and numbers that were completely owned by her client and extremely well supported by content on her client’s targeted site pages. Her attempts to contact Google had gotten her what we in the search industry have come to refer to as the Google Run Around. The first suggested contact for resolution at Google didn’t know why there was a problem, so they blindly transferred the conversation to another group, who then suggested she needed to talk to the first suggested contact, who then transferred her to yet another group. The dance went on like this for days until she got a suggestion to contact some other group but without a direct way to contact them. All of this happened, of course, without a single telephone call after her initial contact with her assigned Google AdWords representative. Good luck to you if you need help with any other Google product like the Google Tag Manager, for which customer service is apparently akin to vampires and crucifixes at Google.

 

Don’t be evil
– Google Core Values

 

badgoogleAttributed to either Paul Buchheit or Amit Patel in the early years of Google, the corporate motto, “Don’t be evil,” has been been a core value and part of the Google Code of Conduct that has been around since the beginning of the company. For being such a core tenet, it seems as though the company has found it harder and harder to stick to its guns on this principle since going public.  A key facet of this problem has long been the way Google manages privacy and personal information.

In 2012, Google made a change to its privacy policy that allows it to collect and share users’ personally identifying and usage information across its content platforms. This change was made so that Google could provide more targeted—read more effective for advertisers—advertisements across their network. This move alone has caused a great deal of public backlash against the practices of the company. There, of course, have been other examples where Google has hedged on “Don’t be evil” by placing its commercial interests in front of the interests of its users. The bottom line is that it is very difficult for a public company to do the right thing all of the time, and Google has certainly not been immune.

 

We don’t have a monopoly. We have market share. There’s a difference.
– Steve Ballmer

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Google currently dominates the competition in search engine market share.                                            Its share has dipped somewhat in the past six months.

The success of Google really boils down to market share. Google has enjoyed a greater than 68% market share of all global searches for more than 10 years. Google acquired that market share by ensuring that their search results were the most relevant to users’ needs. That is the core focus that has really built the Google empire. But of late, we have seen Google straying from this focus on results relevance. In an attempt to promote their Google Plus property, for example, it has been shown that Google is skewing its results pages to favor posts within Google Plus. Google was also attacked famously by Microsoft for manipulating its shopping search results to favor paid inclusions.

I personally was interested in finding out more about crypto-currencies and was discussing them with an acquaintance who is pretty active within the category. One of his first pieces of advice to me regarding getting up to speed on the various virtual coins available was to use Bing instead of Google when doing my research. Google has invested in OpenCoin, the firm behind Ripple, and there is a perception—fair or unfair—that Google is skewing its search results to support its own exchange.

The apparent lowering of effective results over self promoting results hasn’t helped Google’s cause as alternative search engines—namely Bing—have been improving their own results to become very competitive.  I personally find Bing results to be at least equal or nearly equal to the results I get from Google. So at least by my estimation—and the estimation of others in the field—the core results are not the clear advantage to Google that they used to be.

A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.
– Michael LeBoeuf

I will be the first to tell you that I don’t know what will ultimately happen in the competition for search engine market share. I can tell you, though, that Google is currently showing signs that they have lost their focus. They service their advertisers with arrogant disregard and nonchalance. They treat their product users as chattel whose information belongs first and foremost to themselves to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. They treat their own products as engines to tune for profit, rather than service. These are all very bad approaches for Google, when the horse they rode to the rodeo was a singular focus on meeting the needs of their customer, the searcher.

So while they will not be going out of business at any time in the foreseeable future, they have left the barn door open for competition. Google dominates in market share, but the “fan boys” of Silicon Valley are a fickle bunch. Love for Google is no longer a given. This means that a solid competitor is one or two innovations away from stealing market share from the search giant. You don’t have to look far to find competitors that smell blood in the water. Microsoft’s Bing is circling its prey.



  1. Tom InspruckerNo Gravatar on Sunday 23, 2014

    Thanks Rich, always good to have someone bringing facts to the equation

  2. Kevin McGrawNo Gravatar on Sunday 23, 2014

    Great blog and business marketing commentary about myriad challenges not uncommon to first-to-market behemoths. This is true whether you’re an established brick-and-mortar like McDonald’s or a digital innovator of the first order.

    Lesson learned? Once one misses that hurdle called ‘customer service’, the race gets a lot harder to run. Companies that fail in this manner can soon find their market shares sliding rapidly. One day, rather than looking over their shoulders, Google could be chasing the lead instead. Your insights and perspectives are spot-on, sir.

  3. Terrance McDermottNo Gravatar on Sunday 23, 2014

    I’ve lived the abysmal of customer service many times. They’ve been so frustrating as an advertiser that I frequently use Bing for personal searches — just because I don’t want to reward Google for treating existing paying customers so poorly.

  4. Rich DettmerNo Gravatar on Sunday 23, 2014

    As a follow up, DuckDuckGo has been gaining some momentum of late. You can read about this not-new-but-picking-up-steam engine here: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231852#

    – Rich